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Women and Imprisonment in the United States: The Gendered Consequences of the U.S. Imprisonment Binge (From Harsh Punishment: International Experiences of Women's Imprisonment, P 81-98, 1999, Sandy Cook and Susanne Davies, eds. -- See NCJ-183050)

NCJ Number
Barbara Owen
Date Published
18 pages
This chapter examines the factors related to the extraordinary increases in the numbers of women in prison, current research on the profile of imprisoned women, and the pain and deprivation women prisoners experience.
The unwillingness of U.S. society to address the real needs of women and girls on the margins of society and the adoption of the "three strikes and you're out" law-and-order philosophy inevitably create an increase in the number of women in prison. In analyzing data from the 1970-95 Uniform Crime Reports, Darrell Steffensmeir and Emilie Allan found that current arrest trends for women are based, in part, on "the sharp increase in the numbers of women arrested for minor property crimes, like larceny, fraud and forgery." Most imprisoned women in the United States struggle with both unemployment and substance abuse. Female inmates are typically poor, disproportionately African-American and Hispanic, and have little education and few job skills. The majority of those imprisoned (80 percent) have at least two children. Prison conditions for women involve disparate disciplinary practices, sexual abuse, separation from children and significant others, inadequate health care, lack of recognition of prior victimization, lack of substance abuse treatment, insufficient mental health services, and a lack of educational and vocational programs. The problems that underlie the behavior of most of these women can be addressed outside a punitive custodial environment. U.S. prisons are ill-equipped to deal with the problems of women, but the number of imprisoned women will continue to increase until the reality of their lives on the streets and inside the prisons forces a re-examination of prison policy and its gendered consequences. 66 notes and 42 references